Wednesday, August 13, 2008


We had a guest speaker in one of my classes recently, and he made a point of asking if this was "a non-attribution environment." (the instructor confirmed that this was indeed the case).

That's a common caveat in military academic circles. It basically means people can speak freely, without fear of retribution (or, apparently, attribution). The "non-attribution" clause is usually invoked by people who want to speak an uncomfortable truth and not have it quoted later, to their detriment.

I can't stand it when they do that. It's even worse when the speaker is a former fighter pilot, who is supposed to have a certain level of courage and fortitude.

When I'm on the other side of the podium, I often make a point of explaining that everything I say is fully "for attribution," and I'm waiving any inherent "non-attribution" rights or protections. Pah! If I say something out loud to an audience, it's because I believe it and I'm willing to stand behind it. They can quote me on it, to what ever authority they wish.

I never want to tell people "Here's something I believe to be true, but please don't tell anyone else I said it or believe it..." or "Here's an uncomfortable truth we can temporarily recognize, but once we leave this room let's go back to pretending it's not the case."

I'm curious if the "non-attribution environment" (by another name, perhaps?) exists in other places. I wish it didn't exist here...


Rosa Say said...

Aloha Dan, that sounds so strange to me; have never encountered such a thing! At the very least I'd expect that the speaker and host would have that discussion before even booking the gig.

Gabe said...

I want to add my two cents that it's all military circles period, not just academic ones. Any environment (military wise) where the speaker feels comfortable enough to ask the question and where the senior most member in the room adjudicates. This environment now becomes "non-attribution".

I never thought of this, but you having pointed it out, it does sound pretty crazy. What happens if something is said by a subordinate that is disliked in an "attribution" environment? I know my opinion, but what do you say?

The Dan Ward said...

Thanks, Rosa! Great to hear from you!

It is a strange phenomenon... Gabe and I will do our best to root it out anywhere we encounter it. :)

Mark said...

Boy, that does sound strange.

At first, I thought it was something along the lines of what we call at work "Las Vegas Rules" (i.e. what is said in this room stays in this room). But that seems to come from a different angle - like maintaining confidentiality when speaking about examples related to someone else's personal performance.

This non-attribution stuff seems to be more of a veil of pseudo-anonymity. Or perhaps it is a way to temporarily take the bars, stars, birds, and leaves off the shoulders and allow people to think and speak beyond their rank.

Which I think you do anyway - I love the "waiving of non-attribution rights"!